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Dealing with Difficult People

dealing with difficult people

As pretty much every industry deals with people in some aspect of its operations you are bound to come across some who are difficult. Most of us do not deal well with them as we often feel intimidated, disrespected, or taken advantage of.

A difficult person is typically one whose troublesome behavior affects most people negatively. They commonly exhibit explosive reactions to small issues. This unpleasant mode of conduct is frequent and habitual. Most difficult behavior is situational, usually the result of an experience which made the person unhappy. Such as: personal domestic problems, seemingly unfair criticism at work, an incident which made them feel ashamed, poor self-esteem, repressed anger over past injustices, rejecting others before they are rejected, or topics they are uncomfortable discussing. Some of this behavior is intentional. Many of these people are illogical and therefore do not respond well to reason. Some people badger relentlessly to achieve their end.

Successfully dealing with these people requires skill and sensitivity

In this article I am going to give you some insight which may help you to better understand why they are difficult as well as some strategies that will help you to work around their behaviors.

First of all you must espouse the attitude that this is NOT about you… rather it is a result of some past experience that the individual has never forgotten and does not want repeated. In order to protect themselves against that re-occurence they have adopted a form of armor… their difficult behavior, which keeps them in control of the situation. Most of the difficult behavior modes are control issues and/or a lack of problem solving abilities.

Sadly most of the difficult people we encounter are not very happy with their lot in life and so appear to take it out on anyone they encounter. Sometimes you are that person. The best approach is to practice Active Listening, to try and determine exactly what the current issue is and then you can try to help them resolve it. By truly focusing on what they are saying and then showing them you actually heard them, you may begin to gain some trust and respect, which in the long run may make it easier for you to manage this person in future encounters.  You must remember that they treat everyone the same, it is really not about you, but about them and their perceived issues. You must take a deep breath, be patient, listen carefully and then be assertive as necessary and assist them to problem solve when that is the obvious solution.

These tactics employed to gain control, be the center of attention, get what they want by any means, and insensitivity to how they are affecting those around them are all common approaches used by these sorts of individuals.  You must determine the limits of their behavior that you will tolerate, let them know those boundaries, and what the consequences will be if those boundaries are exceeded.

difficult personDealing with abusive, disrespectful, demanding people is not easy and it is no wonder most of us avoid the confrontations whenever possible. Nonetheless, sometimes it is not possible to avoid having to deal with this person… they may be a customer, a supplier, even a colleague or a supervisor. Sometimes you do have choices, but often you do not so adopting a calm, respectful but assertive approach to such outbursts will provide you with the most successful outcomes. You will not always ‘win’, because you cannot make people do things they do not want to do, however, you may be able to sway them somewhat and at least not feel so mistreated, if you listen well and definitely show that you wish to help them.

In our program on this topic, I offer the learner some descriptive names for the various kinds of difficult people, what sorts of behavior each one uses and how to counter those behavior modes.

The Kind of Difficult People You May Meet

As this is only a short blog, I cannot offer every strategy, but here are examples of the sorts of people you may encounter, what they typically do and how you can counter those tactics.

The Tank is a person who is abusive, abrupt, intimidating, and contemptuous. They leave their victims on the defensive, feeling overwhelmed, and powerless. In order to deal with them you need to be assertive, open to negotiation, and let them “vent”.

The Volcano is a person who tends to throw a temper tantrum. Their frequent outbursts of emotion are filled with rage that is out of control. Volcanoes react in this manner to situations in which they feel threatened or thwarted. This combination of perceptions causes a great deal of stress for them and therefore compromises their ability to effectively cope with the situation. Again you must let them “vent”, and listen attentively to their issue and then assist them in problem solving their issue.

The Sharpshooter is a person who has several different motivators for their sniping behavior. Some shoot when they are upset with the result of a situation in which they have lost control and end up carrying a grudge. Some shoot to undermine others who might interfere with their plans. Some shoot just to get attention. Once more you need to be assertive and avoid sarcasm.

The Complainer is a person who finds fault with everything and everyone. They typically feel powerless to alter the situations about which they constantly complain, and feel that they are not responsible for their own plight. You need to avoid blaming them, rather, help them to problem solve and once more, practice Active Listening.

The Clam is a person who reacts to questions and attempts to engage them in conversation result in silence, a grunt, or a noncommittal yes or no. They are most unresponsive. You must get them to open up by asking them open ended questions.

The Wet Blanket is a person who responds to any question or proposal with a quick and negative response. These people have a deep-rooted bitterness about their lot in life and so only see the glass as half full. You need to offer them help in problem solving and try not to argue with them. Be prepared to offer negative outcomes and to say no to them.

The Know-it-all is a person who is the expert on everything! They are imposing, condescending, pompous, and domineering. They make others feel stupid inferior, or worthless. They have low tolerance for objections or corrections. You need to get them to consider the alternatives without challenging their “alleged” expertise. Don’t over generalize or be dogmatic this will only make them dig in their heels. You may have to give in on this one!

The Staller is a person who constantly indecisive. They postpone every decision and constantly beat around the bush to avoid making a decision. They accept tasks and responsibilities and then do not follow through, leaving others to pick up the slack. In order to help them you must again engage them in problem solving approaches and support their decision making efforts.

And finally the Super-Agreeable is a person who has a desire to please everyone! They have a strong need to be liked and will do anything to avoid confrontation. They often forget commitments, over schedule their time and then become resentful that they have no time for themselves. With these people you need to get firm commitments, help them to learn how to plan more effectively, and follow through.

Here is a short summary of what to remember:

1. Maintaining control is usually an issue for them.
2. Use Active Listening so that you can truly find out what the problem is.
3. You will likely have to offer strategies for problem solving.
4. Try to consider their perspective of the situation and be empathetic.
5. Realize that change may not be possible no matter what you do.
6. Dealing with these people requires skill and sensitivity.
7. Passive acceptance of their behavior is enabling….you will get the behavior you tolerate!

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